The year 2020 has marked a before and after for practically all communities in the world at all possible latitudes. Most of us have been taken by surprise by these events and have insisted on thinking of this context as a new normality, when, in fact, organizations such as the WHO and the Academy have been warning about how inequitable access to health is; about the increase in treatable and avoidable infectious diseases (given that there are vaccines for them); and about the danger of the development of epidemics due to new diseases, among other points.
A little over two years ago, the working group dedicated to health within the G-20 Civil-20 Affinity Group – in which RACI was co-chair – emphasized in one of its sessions the main aspects that would cross health in the future: large population displacements and a highly globalized world in which diseases would spread at astronomical speed. I believe that, like the writer of these lines, most of the audience present that day will have interpreted what it was said as belonging to the distant future. Well, two years later and two decades into the 21st century, it seems that we are beginning to feel its effects and it raises serious questions about how these transformations will affect Civil Society.
I would like to reassess what it was like this year for the social sector. From RACI, we have developed the survey Civic Perspective in front of Covid-19 –whose findings we will be compiling in a publication that will be available during the month of January 2021–, a version of our traditional study adapted to the pandemic situation. Having started in 2018, and already having a first approximation to the characteristics of our organizations –of which we do not have official data of any kind– we decided this year to work on the basis of a quali-quantitative approach. Given the extraordinary nature of the situation, we went out to listen to the voices of our members and allies, instead of just making assumptions about what the organizations were experiencing. In this way, we identified the dimensions we wanted to explore and we further opened the game to our main interlocutors. 79 RACI members answered the open survey that allowed us to construct relevant information to better understand the situation of the organizations during the events of Covid-19. We then opened the consultation to non-member organizations, reaching a total of 270 responses.
So, what is the state of affairs of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)?
One of the most important points was to observe the enormous capacity for adaptation that the organizations exhibited during the most restrictive months of the Obligatory and Preventive Social Isolation (ASPO, for its Spanish acronym) – from April to June. Almost all of the organizations (99%) had implemented changes to continue functioning and reported being operational to varying degrees. More than half of the organizations consulted said they were operational at a level higher than 60% of the usual level. This was a great effort for the sector since it not only had to face restrictions to operate, but also received increasing demands during this period. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said that the demands on their organizations increased and another 21% said that they remained stable. In addition, 73% of respondents said they had not seen any increase in their resources to deal with the pandemic. It seems that organizations have already adapted to the endemic lack of financial resources in the sector. Year after year, we are seeing the enabling space for organizations slowly shrinking, which is especially evidenced by the diminishing funding opportunities. We can consider this habit to have been key to adapting to the pandemic and the restrictions that were put in place to shovel it. Another quality experienced as a strength by the respondents is the excellence and commitment of the teams, as they have been able to adapt to adverse conditions. The social commitment to the cause and vision of the organizations was another highlight. Some studies suggest that during the pandemic a growing trend towards individual donation and volunteering developed. These are trends that will have to wait to see if they will be more than the consequence of an extraordinary context. The level of organizational articulation was also considered another of the strengths of CSOs. The promotion of a culture of networking is one of the pillars of RACI and has been the theme of our year-end campaign: #ArticularparaFortalecer (Articulate for Strength).
However, despite the capacity to adapt and the strengths found in the sector, the level of concern among CSOs appears to be extremely high: there is concern about the sustainability of salaries in the short and medium term; concern about the general economic context of Argentina; concern about the decline of donors of all types; and concern about the possibility of not being able to continue supporting the target population. In addition, 8 out of 10 respondents expect the situation to worsen or remain the same during the upcoming years.
To sum up, CSOs have made an enormous effort this year in extremely adverse conditions, and they have made very clear their great capacity to adapt and their commitment to the communities and causes with which they work. They have shown the place that they occupy in our society, despite not having been taken into account in decision-making spheres and having had to complain about special permits for movement and the application of measures that make the legal and fiscal requirements imposed on them more flexible. The maturity of the sector has also been reflected in its professionalism and its high appreciation of the cooperation/articulation instances – the work in articulation was weighted among the first places of the strengths with 47% and it also occupies one of the first places among the initiatives developed during the pandemic. This is a very positive sign for a future that is coming up uncertain and worrying.
What must be added is that Civil Society alone cannot cope with the ravages of the social and economic crisis. These are based on an Argentina where inequity and disparity have been deepening, and, as one of the respondents mentioned, we are in danger of making these problems increasingly structural if we do not reverse the negative trends.
As proposed by the Agenda 2030, there are a multiplicity of actors that are called to play a preponderant role in the transformation of reality together with the Civil Society such as the State, the Local Private Sector and the International Cooperation Sector. This is a concern, since when we showed the results obtained from the survey of Foundations and Companies that carried out Local Private Social Investment (ISPL) at the beginning of this year, which crystallized in the ISPL 2020 Board of Directors (second edition), we observed the serious deficit in terms of diversification of support -which is mostly concentrated in donations in kind- and of the topics supported. The magnitudes of support could not even be measured because there is no public information available to do so: it is worth noting that 40% of the companies consulted did not have CSR reports on their websites and those that did were from previous years, that is, they contained outdated information. In the reports found there was also no information available on support amounts and award forms/criteria. This implies a serious lack of accountability.
In terms of international cooperation, the Latin American region continues to occupy an intermediate status between the most favored and most disadvantaged regions of the world, and it is also subject to the measurements made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which are renewed every 2-3 years. In regions like ours, where the main problem is inequality, alternative measurement tools are needed that better reflect local realities. In a recent study conducted by CIVICUS, it became clear that the region has scarce resources that are exclusively needed by CSOs and that competition for resources also reflects the aforementioned inequalities in the region, since local organizations must compete with government agencies, the private sector, international NGOs and international organizations for funds.
In this complex scenario, we must ask ourselves whether our interlocutors will be equally flexible and committed; and whether they will be willing to take on the important role that they play alongside Civil Society in the mission of leaving no one behind.
Research Area Coordinator